On 4 AM on Monday, I watched the live stream of a satellite launch taking off from the Sriharikota Spaceport in India. The event was ten kinds of interesting, but one aspect stuck with me the most.
I’ve read about the ISRO’s (Indian Space Research Organization) many impressive achievements, but I’ve never watched a live stream from their mission control.
The spacious room styled after NASA’s, housed the scientific elite of India. Every one of the forty or so men and women sat in the state of absolute focus; even from half a world away, their tension was palpable. No wonder, they were about to launch a rocket into space.
And yet, something felt off. It took me a while to realize what it was. Then I noticed. Every third person seen on the stream was wearing a bindi, the decorative symbol on the forehead. Additionally, most women wore a sari dress, some with their hair covered.
These were all symbols of religious significance, and (to me) they seemed as out of place as, say, a Christian crucifix in NASA’s mission control, or a nun operating one of the terminals during a SpaceX launch.
For a moment, this contrast between hard science and religion felt like something out of a Monty Python skit. But what gave me a pause was how obviously wrong I was, as proven by the very image that bewildered me.
Though the story speaks of my ignorance of India’s vastly complex culture, I wanted to share it with you because people of ISRO are yet another positive example of what the lack of prejudice can achieve.